The Differences between Networking in France vs. Working Hard in the US

About the importance of networking in France

Working as part of an intercultural team often means sharing unquantifiable realities. When the PEW Research Center publishes information about the differences between the United States and France, you should take advantage of it! Today let’s learn about the differences between French networking and American hard work.

Yesterday I was reading an article from the PEW Research Center about the differences between Americans and Europeans. In this same article, I noted two fascinating figures pertaining to the notions of American “Hard Work” and the French address book.

73% of Americans say that working hard is essential for success, versus only 25% of the French. And 56% of the French consider relationships to be an important asset for advancement, compared to only 35% of Americans.

These are two enormous differences that explain quite well the misunderstandings between France and the United States!

The French are efficient, despite strong social benefits

Seen from the United States, France is paradise for employees and hell for business owners. Beyond the 35-hour workweek and 5 weeks of paid vacation, France has the most restrictive labor legislation of the industrialized countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, even though the number of hours worked per capita is one of the lowest in the world, the hourly productivity rate in France is scarcely less than that of the United States.

So no, the French are not lazy. They just place more importance on their family and social lives. For example, consider the business lunch in France; it’s not just about eating, it’s about maintaining relationships, moreover. I talked about it in great detail in this post “Why a Business Lunch in France is Not a Waste of Time

Having a successful life doesn’t mean the same thing

Indeed, the French don’t share the American enthusiasm for working hard, but both countries are similar in their appreciation of their personal success. According to a 2012 study, 85% of the French and 82% of Americans think they have succeeded in life. But the reasons for their success vary widely.

In France, accomplishment involves having a fulfilling family and social life. According to the French newspaper L’Express:

“In France, 95% … prefer family life. They give equal priority to things that are, above all, “intimate”, such as having a happy family, free time, and friendships. And even at work, an area in which having a sense of accomplishment is strongest, there is also a social agenda: to get along well with colleagues.”

In the United States, accomplishment also includes family. But the keys to professional success do not include the same social agenda as in France. Americans cite more individualistic factors like having responsibilities, growth opportunities, and the ability to stand out.

Networking in France compared to American shrewdness

When questioned by the PEW Research Center about the key ingredients required for a successful professional life, the French and Americans don’t really agree.

61% of Americans think that you must first have the intellectual ability (vs. 38% of the French), whereas for the French, an address book is the most important asset for a successful professional life. So say 56% of the French but only 35% of Americans.

I spoke of the importance of relationships in France in my post last week. The French invest in relationships, and expect a return. Americans have faith in themselves first, then faith in their ability to work hard.

The importance of social benefits in France

Don’t forget that thanks to social benefits, it is much easier for the French to give more time to family and friends and have more time for vacation. The legal workweek is 35 hours long. Additional hours are paid or compensated with free time. And to top it off, every employee has the right to 30 days of paid vacation, which are all taken!

I have spoken in great deal about work-life balance in the United States in this post. In 2013, Americans left 429 million vacation days unused, and 61% continued to work during their vacation.

Do you have to work harder to be successful in the United States?

Living in the United States, I see firsthand how difficult life is, especially compared to France and Germany, two countries I know very well. So yes, you have to work harder to be successful in the United States.

The lack of social insurance in the United States forces everyone to cover themselves according to their means. The better the social insurance, the more expensive it will be. In 2015, 10% of the American population had no health insurance. In both France and Germany, social insurance is mandatory and it covers medical expenses and hospitalization.

It is unusual to see older people still working in the supermarkets in France, but not in the United States. In 2016, the U.S. Data and Statistics Department estimates that 6.1% of the working population is older than 65.

Access to university is expensive. A 2013 HSBC study calculated the cost of a year of study in the United States to be $27,000, on average. University in France and Germany is free, therefore accessible to all social classes. In the United States, you have to start working very early to provide children access to university. For low-income employees, working two jobs then working under the table for the weekend is the only way to finance their children’s college years.

Based on this, is it surprising that 73% of Americans would say that working hard is an essential part of having a successful life?

Foto credit by DDRockstar

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13 Comments

  • There is a lot of networking in the US as well… That doesn’t mean that people are lazy. But that with the same skills, they would prefer someone who was recommended. Exactly same story in France.

  • As a Brit with now 15 years in France I fully agree that networking or being “in” with those who can help you progress is key. The selective system starts early with having the right “pots” at school, through to the “prepa” system to get into the “right” schools and so on and so on. However, there’s still plenty of room for the nimble and agile to progress to a level to please many. Working hard or being lazy doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s definitely a case of not what you know but who you know. There’s a surprising number that don’t know much believe you me, their power to mobilise those that do is often surprising and powerful.

  • C’est la vielle France. Unfortunately. its only this 25% that is, or has a chance, of succeeding. Relationships are great to open certain doors, but they will close quickly enough if you don’t deliver.

    • I have observed often enough strange decisions concerning advancement in French companies. However, the ones not smart enough and not working enough were gone after a while. So, yes Rich, I agree completely with you!

    • My sentence is indeed misleading. I guess because the tuition in French university is so low, I decided to declare it as free.
      Here is a link with a 2015/2016 tuition overview: http://www.campusfrance.org/fr/page/le-cout-des-etudes (in French).
      Tuition for one year in “licence”, or tuition for the third year at one university: 184 EUR (or $210)
      Master (fourth year) 256 EUR => $292
      Doctorat (fifth year and more) 391 EUR => $445

      • Thank you for this rectification. By the way, the cost of student health insurance (something like 200 € or more) makes university fees a bit higher than the figures you provide.
        Just one last remark: we no longer say Maîtrise, since this degree no longer exists. Now, after the Licence, you prepare a Master (2 years).

  • Totally agree with what’s in the article, about the French’s way of approaching this. Accomplishment comes from a successful family and social life Then work. All are important but Work is definitely not first! At the end of the day, nobody want to have “worked my hardest to contribute to my company’s profit/my country’s GDP” on his/her gravestone…

    • Thank you Aïna. The PEW figures are very interesting in the way they cover this difference.

  • To answer this part of the question; “French consider relationships to be the most important asset for advancement”, In France apparently the social network you have seems to be very important in terms of your professional career. Some of my business projects I got from friends, colleagues or at least their quite close networks. As if professional competencies were hard to evaluate otherwise… I personally find that quite mind boggling really, having lived for a very long time in the UK! I would however avoid being so blunt as to question whether a particular nation’s human beings are lazy – a bit of an insult really. This kind of racism i hope is well outdated in our modern societies, or at least should be.

    • Happy to see that my question about the “Lazy French” pushes you to comment! Thank you btw for your valuable input.

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